We can agree that we will choose health over money for injuries. If you were involved in an accident that resulted in severe injury, no money in the world may compensate you for a severe and life-changing injury. My success is measured in the real differences made to my clients’ quality of life.
What is Car Accident Law in California?
California has a variety of laws that may apply in case of a car accident. These laws determine how insurance claims are handled, what damages are available and when a lawsuit must be filed, if necessary. It is important that people who are involved in a car accident in California understand these laws and how they may impact their claim.
Minimum Insurance Requirements
California law requires that vehicle owners be financially responsible for any accidents that they are involved in. The state’s insurance code requires that all vehicles are covered with a minimum of 15/30/5 insurance, meaning that it provides maximum coverage of:
- $15,000 for the injury or death to one person
- $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person
- $5,000 for property damage
Motorists must have proof of insurance readily available in case they are involved in an accident. They must show this proof of insurance when involved in a car accident, when law enforcement requests to see it or when renewing or obtaining vehicle registration. Failing to provide proof of insurance can result in the issuance of fines or even the loss of driving privileges.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
California law requires insurance companies to offer uninsured motorist bodily injury and underinsured motorist coverage. These types of coverage cover injuries and property damage that a motorist who did not have insurance or did not have sufficient insurance caused. Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage provides up to the amount of the insured’s liability coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage can make up the difference between the amount the underinsured driver’s insurance covered and your actual damages. If you decline these types of insurance, you must do so in writing.
Other Forms of Car Insurance
The insurance mentioned above is simply the minimum that the state requires. You can purchase additional insurance. Because California is a tort-based insurance system, if you cause an accident, the injured party can file a lawsuit against you and seek compensation for the damages that they sustained for any amounts above those covered by your insurance. For this reason, many people purchase supplemental insurance, including:
- Increased liability insurance
- Medical payments covered
- Comprehensive coverage
- Collision coverage
- Theft coverage
Accident Reporting Requirements in California
State law requires motorists involved in an accident to stop at the scene of the accident, check if anyone has been injured, render aid to anyone who was injured and exchange information with the other driver.
California Vehicle Code § 20008 requires the driver of a vehicle involved in a car accident or his or her representative to make a written report regarding the crash to the California Highway Patrol or to the police department where the accident occurred if it resulted in injury or death within 24 hours of the accident. If a law enforcement officer responded to the scene of the accident, he or she will prepare the written report and you will not be required to file a separate report.
California Vehicle Code §16000 requires anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident to report an accident to the DMV within 10 days from it occurring if it involved any of the following:
- Death of a person
- Injury of a person
- Property damage in excess of $750
The accident report includes the following information:
- The names and addresses of the drivers and anyone who was injured in the accident
- Time, date and location of the accident
- Birth date, driver’s license information and other information about the motorists
- Insurance information
- Explanation of property damage and injuries
What to Do in Case of an Accident in California Accident
It is important for people involved in a car accident in California to understand what they should do. The most important thing is to call 911 if there are injuries and you need immediate medical assistance. If you are able, check on the other motorist and passengers to check for injuries. The accident should be reported to the police or the local authority who handles motor vehicle accidents. Some police departments respond to every accident while others may only respond based on the accident severity and the location of the accident.
The drivers should exchange information with each other, including the following:
- Telephone numbers
- Driver’s license number
- License plate and VIN
- Insurance information, including insurance company name and policy number
If there are any witnesses, you should obtain their names and contact information in case you need to contact them after the accident.
The individuals involved in the accident should do their best to document the scene of the accident. They should take pictures of the following:
- Accident scene
- Damage to each vehicle
- Traffic controls
- Visual obstacles
- Any property damage in the roadway
- Any nearby signs that may be relevant
Preferably, these pictures should be from different angles.
If you are injured, you should seek medical treatment and explain to your medical providers that you were involved in a motor vehicle accident.
You should also notify your insurance company about the accident or begin a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance claim.
Damages Involved in Car Accidents in California
California law states that personal injury victims have the right to recover the damages that they suffer caused by the negligence of others. California and many other states divide damages into different categories. The most common categories are economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages include those losses that are connected to a certain economic loss. They include damages, such as:
- Vehicle repair or replacement costs
- Past and future medical expenses
- Lost income
- Loss of employment or business opportunities
- Lost earning capacity
- Loss of the use of property
- Burial expenses
Non-economic damages are those that are not as easy to compute, including:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium, affection or companionship
While many states impose a limit on certain types of damages, such as non-economic damages, California does not have a limit of this nature. However, California does have a unique law that prohibits a person who does not have automotive insurance to recover non-economic damages such as pain and suffering or emotional distress, regardless of who is found to be at fault for the accident. This individual can still make a claim based on property damage, lost wages, medical expenses and other economic damages against the at-fault party.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the time limit that a person has to file certain legal actions, such as a personal injury lawsuit. If the time limit passes and the accident victim files a complaint against the negligent driver, the judge will likely dismiss the case because the statute of limitations has expired. In California, injured accident victims have two years to file a lawsuit based on bodily injury. Individuals who file claims based on property damage have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations There are a few rare instances when this time limit can be exceeded. In certain situations, the statute of limitations is “tolled,” meaning that it is temporarily paused until a certain event occurs. These situations include:
- The plaintiff cannot locate the defendant
- The defendant is imprisoned
- The victim is a minor or mentally incapacitated
- There is a reasonable delay in the discovery of an injury related to the accident
A California personal injury lawyer can explain when these situations arise.
Government Accelerated Claims In some cases, the time limit is shortened, such as when a government party is involved. This situation may arise when a local, county, or state government party is responsible for an accident. In these cases, the injured party only has six months from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. Additionally, these types of cases involve filing an administrative claim.
Determining Liability Determining liability often comes down to determining how a party was negligent, meaning that someone drove in a way that a reasonably prudent person would not drive. A reasonably prudent person obeys traffic laws and demonstrates a reasonable degree of caution.
Examples of negligence include:
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Disobeying traffic laws or signals
- Not keeping a proper lookout
- Following too closely
Rules of the Road In some situations, there is a particular driving rule that one of the motorists did not follow. Some of the rules that may be involved include:
- Speed limits – Drivers must adhere to all posted speed limits. These limits are designed for daylight hours and optimal driving conditions. Drivers must reduce their speed when driving conditions are not optimal.
- Preemption – A driver who is entering a road must yield to oncoming traffic and use appropriate caution. This applies to leaving a driveway, alley or other road to enter another road or highway. The driver must ensure that there is sufficient to time to enter the road without disrupting traffic flow.
- Following distance – Drivers who hit the vehicles in front of them are almost always found at fault for the accident because they have not kept enough space between their vehicle and the one in front of them. If a vehicle in front of you suddenly stops, you should have enough time to also stop so that you do not cause an accident.
- Distracted driving – Drivers should avoid using electronic devices or engaging in other forms of distracted driving that takes their eyes or mind off of the road or their hands off of the steering wheel.
These are just a few examples of potentially relevant rules of the road. An experienced personal injury lawyer can review the specific circumstances surrounding your accident to determine which rules may have been violated and by whom. A judge or jury may have to decide if these rules were violated when determining whether to award compensation to an accident victim.
Insurance Investigation In many car accident cases, the insurance company appoints a claims adjuster to conduct an investigation into the accident. This adjuster may get verbal or written accounts regarding the accident from the insured and the other driver. Witnesses may also be contacted to explain what they saw. The claims adjuster may request proof of damages, such as medical bills, medical reports and lost wages documentation.
Pure Comparative Negligence System
California uses a pure comparative negligence system to determine liability when the liability of more than one person or entity is involved in a personal injury claim. Under this system, each person found to be at fault for an accident is liable for his or her portion of the fault. This system ensures that accident victims will be able to cover at least a portion of the damages they sustain. Additionally, it prevents an injured party from receiving compensation caused by his or her own contribution to the accident.
For example, if two drivers are involved in the accident, one driver may run a stop sign. The other driver may be speeding. The first driver may be found to be 70 percent at fault while the second driver is found to be 30 percent at fault. If the injured driver suffered damages totaling $100,000, his or her damages would be reduced by 30 percent to $70,000. Additionally, the second driver would be liable for 30 percent of the first driver’s losses.
In some car accidents, multiple parties may be at fault. California law allows for more than one person to be held financially responsible for damages stemming from this type of accident. Each party is held financially responsible to the degree of their own fault.
Even if a victim contributed to an accident, he or she is not barred from recovering compensation from the other parties at fault for the accident.
The “pure” aspect of this law means that an accident victim can recover damages, regardless of the victim’s own degree of fault. For example, if the driver was 90 percent responsible for the accident, he or she could still pursue a claim against the other party for the remaining 10 percent of the total damages. In many other states, the accident victim is only allowed to recover compensation if he or she is 50 percent or less at fault for the accident or the combined liability of the other parties exceeds the plaintiff’s own degree of negligence.
This system applies in situations in which judges or juries determine the liability of the parties. However, it also applies when a car insurance claims adjuster is evaluating a claim. He or she may make a decision about the degree of fault of each party involved and then make a settlement offer based on this decision.
Seek Help from a Qualified California Car Accident Lawyer
If you were involved in a California car accident, it is important that you contact a qualified California car accident lawyer who can help you with your claim. Working with an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you maximize the amount of compensation that you are able to recover.
Personal injury lawyers handle a variety of responsibilities during this process, including advising you of your legal rights, handling communications with the insurance company, preparing a demand letter and negotiating with the insurance company. They may also collect pertinent evidence in your case to conduct an investigation into its cause and to identify the parties responsible for your damages.
We accept car accident personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis; this means that we do not get paid unless we win your case by settlement or trial verdict.
Please call us for a free consultation with a car accident lawyer: 619-550-1321.